The clock is ticking down as the long-awaited official opening of Delaware beaches for the Memorial Day weekend gets ready to kick off at 5 p.m., May 22.
“If you were to ask me a month or two ago whether we would be opening beaches with less restrictions by Memorial Day weekend I would've said probably not. And yet here we are, moving into Memorial Day weekend ready to reopen the beaches with fewer restrictions,” said Gov. John Carney during a May 19 press conference.
Already open for the past week are ice cream shops and trucks for curbside pickup and takeout. All retail stores were allowed to open for business by appointment only May 20. Restaurants and bars remain closed, although eateries can still operate for pickup and delivery.
“Our message has always been clear that we're going to do it based on the science and based on the data and based on what's good for all of us,” Carney said.
With a short-term rental ban and 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers still in place, Carney said, he hopes to limit the beach to Delaware residents.
“So that'll be a big test,” he said.
Social distancing is required, including on the beach, with 6 feet of separation between people from different households. Face coverings are required on the Boardwalk, but recommended on the beach. Arcades remain closed.
Carney cited the state of Georgia, which opened its economy at the end of April, but questioned whether the state’s early reopening has been a success.
“Georgia arguably moved too quickly to open its economy and restaurants,” he said. “That's not the kind of confidence we want to see here.”
While many criticized Georgia for opening up too early, statistics since show the rate of new positive COVID-19 cases has decreased to March levels, according to Georgia's public health website.
GOP legislators say reopen now
Fifteen Delaware Republican legislators have made it clear that they want Carney's business restrictions removed.
On May 19, legislators shot off a letter to Carney asking him to move up his first phase of reopening from June 1 to Friday, May 22.
“Memorial Day weekend is one of the largest weekends of the year for many businesses, especially those at the beach. To cut that flow of business off in favor of an arbitrary June 1 date, despite evidence that the virus is receding in Delaware is a major mistake that will have devastating consequences for Sussex County, especially,” reads the letter, signed by 15 legislators, mostly from western Sussex County, including Senate Minority Leader Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View; House Minority Leader Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford; Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown; Sen. Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville; Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown; and Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro.
Neither Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, nor Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, signed the letter.
The letter also asks Carney to lift his ban on short-term rentals and allow visitors. “Nearby locations like Ocean City are safely doing so. We need to do the same,” the letter states.
Allowing youth sports and activities to resume, and conducting an audit of hospitalizations and COVID-19 deaths round out recommendations listed in the letter.
“We urge you in the strongest possible terms to give people and business owners back their freedom and let them assume responsibility for themselves and their communities. This virus will be with us for some time. It is up to all of us to adjust to its existence,” the letter reads.
During his May 19 press conference, Carney said he was disappointed by the letter and said he thought it was over the line.
“It sounds political to me, and this is not a time for politics,” he said. “I would note there are quite a number of members who did not sign it, which tells you something in and of itself. What's most disappointing is that some of the members who did sign it I've talked to on a regular basis, [and] they never led me to believe that some of the things in the letter were how they were feeling.”
Briggs King said she signed the letter after months of trying to get answers from the Governor's Office and receiving no response except when information is released to the general public.
“There's been a growing frustration on a lot of different levels that has continued over a period of time,” she said. “Everything comes through a press release. When you see it, we see it.”
Even after information is released, Briggs King said, she has not been able to ask questions, get clarifications, or share her concerns with the governor.
“We need a better response and not a reaction,” she said.
Pettyjohn said he gets hundreds of calls a day from small business owners and residents frantic about their imposing financial ruin. So far, he said, he has referred three people to a suicide hotline.
“I'm the one who's getting yelled at by constituents. I don't think [Carney] is getting these calls,” he said. “A lot are small business owners, and they can't open. They are still considered nonessential when they've seen other businesses open this whole time.”
Even when all small businesses open up, Pettyjohn said, people are starting to realize the financial wall that they are going to hit. “I don't think the governor realizes the impact that is happening to people on a day-to-day basis,” he said.